Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Stars gather to pay tribute in McRae rally

In any other year it is just another rally, a round of the Scottish championship.

But this week the great and the good from around the world will make tracks for Perth to take part in an event which carries the name of Britain's greatest, most exciting, most charismatic rally driver.

Colin McRae, his five-year-old son Johnny and a two pals, Ben Porcelli and Graeme Duncan, died in a helicopter tragedy on the family estate near Lanark just over a year ago, September 15, and on Saturday the rally world will pay tribute to them on the McRae Stages, a rally the McRae family have supported for years.

His brother Alister and father Jimmy will head an incredible entry list which contains four drivers who, like Colin, were former World champions - Hannu Mikkola, Bjorn Waldegard, Ari Vatanen and Stig Blomqvist.

They are coming from America, too, with US champion Travis Pastrana making the trip to the north of Scotland along with Ken Block and John Buffum. Former British champions like Malcolm Wilson, who now heads the Ford World championship team, and Russell Brookes will be there and even the legendary Scot Andrew Cowan, who won the first great London to Sydney Marathon back in 1968 is coming out of retirement as is former World ladies champion Louise Aitken-Walker.

But for one Ulster driver it will be an especially poignant weekend. Colin McRae was Kris Meeke's sponsor and mentor for several years — indeed, the Dungannon driver even lived with the McRae family for a time as he tried to establish himself in the World championship ranks.

"Colin was a big part of my life for a number of years and did more to help me than any other person," said Meeke. "I was just finishing a rally in Luxembourg when I heard that he and Jonny had died in the crash. It was the most painful moment of my life.

"This weekend is all about paying tribute to them and I can see it is going to be a very special, very emotional time."

Meeke is just one of a number of Irish drivers who will be joining in including Marty McCormack who is effectively giving up his chance to win the UK Citroen C2-R2 Cup series to go to Scotland instead of the Trackrod Rally in Yorkshire.

Indeed, the clash with the British championship round and the final round of the Irish Tarmac championship in Cork - and the Northern Ireland championship Bushwhacker Rally - have prevented many more drivers chasing places in an already over-flowing McRae Stages entry list.

But many more just couldn't stay away and among those boarding the boat for Scotland will include Trevor Moore, Richard Hogg, Frank Kelly, Aidan Toner, Seamus O’Connell, Bob Riddles, Liam Regan, Andy Trotter, John Keatley and Lakeland Rally winner Richard Cathcart who has given up the chance of back-to-back victories in the Northern Ireland championship to honour his hero.

The vast majority of them, from Mikkola and Vatanen to Meeke and McCormack, will drive Mk2 Ford Escorts, the most popular rally car of all time - just like Colin McRae.

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